- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Sgt. Marshall “Doc” Bahr of Omaha stood in the corner of the trauma room at a Baghdad combat hospital, feeling frustrated and useless.

Yes, he’d managed to keep his fellow Army Ranger, Spc. Roland Vaughn, alive after a roadside bomb blew up Vaughn’s Stryker vehicle. He had pulled the unconscious soldier out of the burning vehicle, tied a tourniquet around his partly severed arm, slowed the bleeding from his many shrapnel wounds, stabilized his broken neck, and called in a medical helicopter to fly them to the hospital and its trauma team. All that in seven and a half minutes, the Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/1cUbkc9 ) reported.

“I thought he was going to pass away in the helicopter,” said Bahr, recalling the 2007 incident. “I was this highly trained special ops medic, but I didn’t know what to do. I had to turn him over to someone else.”

From that moment, Bahr knew he wanted to be the guy inside the operating room saving lives instead of the guy in the corner, watching. And it is the moment that set him on the path to a recent Saturday, when he collected his medical school diploma from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Now “Doc” Bahr is Dr. Bahr.

In a few weeks, he’ll leave his west Omaha home with his wife, Sami, and baby daughter, Jean, and head east to Pittsburgh.

There he’ll start a four-year residency program in anesthesiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Someday, he hopes to work with veterans, treating the chronic pain that comes with many war wounds.

“They are the silent heroes of our country,” Bahr said. “I will be able to provide a level of care to our veterans with a perspective that mirrors their own.”

As a student at Creighton Prep in the early 2000s, Bahr knew he would join the military. His father, Michael Bahr, had been an Army Green Beret, and his grandfather and uncles had all served as well. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when he was 16, only cemented his decision.

“It was kind of a family tradition,” Bahr said. “I had always had the itch to serve my country, and then 9/11 happened.”

He enlisted right out of high school with the idea of becoming a medic, completing his service, then returning to Omaha to become a firefighter.

He was in airborne school when a recruiter for the elite Army Rangers came to his base. As soon as he heard the pitch - including footage from the film “Black Hawk Down,” about a 1993 mission in Somalia fought largely by Rangers - he knew he’d found his niche.

He completed the harsh 31-day training course and was assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Georgia. The unit’s website describes it as the Army’s “premier direct-action raid force,” specializing in missions that include air-assault operations, seizing of airfields, destruction of strategic facilities, and “capturing or killing enemies of the nation.”

During training, Ranger recruits were required to study in-depth the life and career of a fallen Ranger. Bahr chose Pat Tillman, who had walked away from a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to join the Army soon after 9/11. Tillman was killed in a controversial friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in April 2004, a few months before Bahr entered training.

“I felt that he epitomized what an American hero was,” Bahr said. “He genuinely cared about humanity and wanted to help.”

During his six-year Army career, Bahr deployed five times. His second deployment, when Vaughn was wounded, was the first time Bahr had treated a critically wounded soldier whom he knew well.

“It was the first time I felt vulnerable, and the first time I thought I would lose a brother,” he said.

Vaughn survived the blast, thanks to the actions of Bahr and the military trauma team. Last month Vaughn climbed Aconcagua, the Argentine peak that is the tallest mountain outside of Asia. He and Bahr still keep in touch.

After the 2007 incident, Bahr began taking college courses - online classes while deployed, and night school at home.

For one class, Bahr was taking an online final while deployed in Iraq. With 15 minutes left in the test, he got paged to leave immediately on a mission. He had to call the instructor later and explain that he was a deployed soldier.

“It was definitely interesting, trying to balance,” he said.

Between college and deployments, he dated Samantha “Sami” Gano, a young interior design student attending college in Savannah.

It was a relief to her when Bahr left the Army in 2009 and enrolled at Ohio State University - in Sami’s home state - to finish his undergraduate degree.

He left without physical scars, but he found the transition from combat to civilian life jarring and difficult.

Even as he plowed through his courses, Bahr thought about re-enlisting. He felt guilty for not being with his unit, especially when he heard about Ranger friends who had been killed in combat. He found comfort in the company of other student veterans.

“It’s a support network, a fraternity,” Bahr said.

Sami, whom he married in 2010, kept him focused on his medical goals.

Bahr hoped to go home to Omaha for medical school. He was accepted at UNMC, and he started classes there in August 2011. He stood out from the start, said Dr. K. Reed Peters, a UNMC anesthesiology professor who became his mentor.

“I could tell from day one that he had a lot of experience behind him from being an Army Ranger,” Peters said. “He was at ease from the start, very calm and reassuring to his patients.”

Before Bahr’s GI Bill benefits ran out, he applied for a scholarship from the Pat Tillman Foundation. The organization, founded by Tillman’s widow, Marie, supports the graduate studies of veterans.

Among 7,500 applicants, Bahr was one of 55 chosen to receive scholarships that year. All together, there are now 350 Tillman scholars.

“These are extremely motivated people,” he said. “Every time I get in a room with the other Tillman scholars, it’s like walking through a Hall of Heroes.”

He’s reconnected with another Ranger-turned-Tillman scholar named Richard Mendez - and discovered that they’re walking a similar path that started in the same place. Mendez was there the night Vaughn was wounded in Baghdad and also felt frustrated that he couldn’t do more to help. He, too, decided to become a doctor and now is in his first year of medical school, in Vermont.

“It left a profound impact on my life, and I think it did for Marshall, too,” said Mendez, 30. “Marshall’s kind of paving the way for me.”

Bahr’s four years of experience at UNMC exposed him to all kinds of medicine. But he was particularly touched by his experience at the VA Medical Center in Omaha, where he met veterans suffering from chronic pain.

He was reminded of the Ranger Creed, which urges Rangers on to greater heights of effort, achievement and service. It explains why he wants to serve veterans.

“We are a community that relies on one another,” Bahr said, quoting the creed. “I shall never fail my comrades.”

And from now on, he’ll be in the operating room when lives are on the line, instead of leaving the lifesaving to someone else.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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